The Nation grovels to the mob, abasing itself by apologizing for a poem it published

August 1, 2018 • 10:00 am

On July 5, The Nation published a poem called “How-To” by Anders Carlson-Wee, a young white man.  It describes how panhandlers, the homeless, and others asking for money should behave. That behavior, as you can see in the poem, involves using tactics designed to pry money out of people who are reluctant to give some spare change. The argot used by the poet is that of some black people, although others say simply “Southerners.” Read it for yourself (click on screenshots to go to the poem and apology page):


The Torrington Register Citizen in Connecticut notes :

The poem offers advice to presumably homeless panhandlers on the best way to pry cash from passersby, including this line: “If you’re crippled don’t /
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough / Christians to notice.”

Throughout the poem, the narrator also adopts an ungrammatical vernacular that many readers found equally troubling: “Don’t say homeless, they know / you is.”

Those on social media actually found two problems with the poem. First is its “ableism”, which doesn’t bother me so much as it’s about homeless and disabled people asking for money, and that’s simply a fact of life. The other parts, about how to get more money out of passersby, may be imagined, but there are surely tactics that panhandlers and the disabled use that have brought them more money. Having a nearby animal as your pet helps, as does displaying one’s handicap and so on. And surely some of these tactics have been passed among the disabled and homeless. I have no issue with this, though I’m not sure “How-To” constitutes “poetry” in my book, as it lacks meter, imaginative images or interesting language. That’s a matter of taste. Nevertheless, The Nation considered it poetry and published it.

The second issue is the use of language: black argot like “You hardly even there” or “they know you is”, which, I suppose would be okay if the poet was black but was deemed cultural appropriation because he was white. That could seem a bit more problematic, but then there are people who speak this way, and the use of other people’s English has been part of literature for a long time, including in “Huckleberry Finn” and “A Passage to India.” On balance, I don’t find the poem problematic.

But many people did, and let The Nation know on social media, considering the poem not only ableist but racist. A few examples:

After I wrote the above, I asked Grania for her take on the poem, and she gave me permission to quote her view:

From what I can see the poem is about how to claw back some semblance of power while in a position of submission or powerlessness, which is an interesting concept. The narrative voice is describing their fictional self and their own actions and acting. It’s got nothing to do with “othering” or “belittling” communities, and anyone claiming to be hurt or injured after reading the poem needs a big sign tattooed backwards on their forehead so that every time they look in the mirror they can read the words:

I suppose the editors should have been prepared by this kind of social media pushback, but instead of defending their right to publish what they wanted, they issued an apology almost unparalleled in its groveling.  Their admission, for example, that the poem is “ableist” is not supportable: the poem is about being disabled and having to ask for money. As for having caused “harm to several communities”, the harm is only to feelings (n.b. “the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem.”). But the poem will damage no minority group. And the editors now feel that they have to earn the readers’ trust back, when in fact some readers defended the poem’s publication and criticized this apology.

This kind of groveling and truckling to the mob is, to me, absolutely contemptible:

The poem had its defenders, and the Nation its critics for apologizing:

and from philosopher Jeremy Stangroom:

There’s a good case to be made that The Nation should have followed Stangroom’s advice.

Nevertheless, the poet apologized on Twitter:

According to Page Six, the poet’s apology didn’t still the critics, who piled on even more, calling Carlson-Wee’s use of the phrase “eye-opening” ableist as well. And according to the tweeter below, the apology didn’t go far enough (Carlson-Wee donated his fee to charity). There is nothing he can do now, for he has been cast into the pit of perdition, and this will follow Carlson-Wee forever. As a poet, he’s toast.

This is now what’s happening in America (and Canada and the UK): the thought police, screaming on social media, are baying for people’s jobs and reputations because their words don’t conform to what critics see as the ideologically correct position. Literature is especially vulnerable since it’s imaginative and doesn’t always deal with the writer’s sex, ethnicity, or race.

If those who oppose the thought police remain silent, the Pecksniffs will win by default, so it’s up to us to criticize this kind of censorship and apologetics whenever we can.

h/t: cesar

78 thoughts on “The Nation grovels to the mob, abasing itself by apologizing for a poem it published

  1. When I read about this stuff, I sometimes try to figure out why nothing like it ever seems to touch me. Then I realize, it’s because I live in the real world, do real work, do real things, talk to real people.

      1. Social media can be very helpful. I track all kinds of things of interest to me via Twitter. To name one thing, I monitor all the rocket launches and the detailed events of various spacecraft. I also get notified of various scientific conferences and local speaking events. The bad side of social media is practically all we hear about on the news. This shouldn’t surprise anyone since that’s a general problem with the news, as noted by Steven Pinker and many others.

  2. FFS, it’s a poem; get over it. The last thing that oughta be required of poetry is political correctness. Christ only knows where the French Decadent poets of the 19th century would be permitted to publish today.

    Épater la bourgeoisie!

  3. What a colorless, boring world these “pecksniffs” want us all to live in. And their attitude is beyond idiotic. They say that their intent is to empower and protect those that are less privileged. And yet they want to destroy what may be the most powerful mechanisms for achieving that, art which depicts life from other perspectives encouraging “living in someone else shoes” and adoption of things from other cultures. Both of these things more often lead to increasing circles of inclusion than to any negative consequences.

    Grania’s take on the poem is far more accurate and insightful than the Nation’s poetry editors’

  4. Calling “eye-opening” ableist is indicative of just how insincere so many of these people are (“what do you mean, ‘these people’?!?”), and the ones who do say such things sincerely are so blinded by their need for outrage that their own instinctual thought processes will force them into believing even the most outrageous of this claptrap. Toward what group could this phrase possibly be considered ableist? Even blind people can open their eyes! Is it ableist toward the theoretical person who was born with some deformity — excuse me, “difference” — of fused eyelids?

    1. I would be careful using the expression “blinded by” as meaning “unable to understand”. Some may take offense at this and you will be forced to issue an apology. 😎

    2. There is a man at the end of the Alice in Chains video “Man In The Box” who would take exception to the comment lol.

      I was gonna link to the Beavis and Butthead video where our two fave teens were watching and commenting on the video, but apparently it is no longer on Youtube.

  5. I read it as a commentary on the attitudes of people like me (affluent middle class) to the homeless and how we do make it about us. The poem made me feel distinctly uncomfortable and in my opinion is a good piece of art.

      1. You and Grania both got it and the guardians of galactic principle piling on do not undersstand waht poetry is. They seem to see any sort of writing as a political manifesto, absent nuance, absent subtlety. I’m particularly appalled by the craven response of the Nation’s editors. “Fuck off’ is indeed an appropriate response.

    1. I like this reading, which meshes well with Grania’s. I, too, find the poem disturbing, and all the stronger for it. Indeed, it may be the affluent, white Nation-reading class (and I’m in there, though sans subscription) who should be given the most pause by this poem, though surely not for the reasons the current protesters give.

    2. Maybe that’s what’s buggin’ the affluent middle class folk associated with The Nation. I read it as a reverse-engineered send up of the same people.

    3. I read it similarly, and to me the key lines are “It’s about who they believe they is. You hardly even there.”

      1. Me too. Making mockery of self conscious pseudo generosity-if they even come through with a couple of coins. It is also about the sensibility, sensitivity we all share and have trouble acknowledging.the rattle of internal conversation hiding the simplicity of simply opening up.

  6. Wow. This is a new low for the ctrl-left. Instead of getting the underlying message that it is a horrible injustice to our fellow humans that they find themselves homeless… these self-righteous “progressiver than thou” posers, instead of using their powers of communications to attempt to influence public and more importantly politicians’ opinion to acknowledge the need to remedy the sad fact of widespread poverty and homelessness in the richest country in the world, they take this rather heartrending poem as an opportunity to signal how virtuous and protective they are of the imagined feelings of various members of the imagined hierarchy of oppression who might be offended in the unlikely event that they read this poem while taking a break from the soul-crushing job of begging for the right to remain alive. Maybe the editors enjoy grovelling, or maybe they feel the need to keep up with the virtue signalling of the “progressiver than thou” Joneses. 🙁 This situation is beyond depressing.

  7. I love

    I love
    the cops
    – the pc cops, that is –
    when they sniff
    the byline
    and snort
    racist pitchforkery;
    they can lick the salt and pepper
    hairs off my balls.

  8. Well, I think his apology was pretty in line with the original poem, which sounds like obnoxious “I *get it, y’know?” pandering to the sensibilities of liberals. The original poem sounds like what it was – an imagining of panhandlers as written from the point of view of a privileged Vanderbilt student (they appear in trope form only more or less to highlight the poet’s perceived virtues, not in human detail – victims ignored by mean people with money who *don’t get it, unlike the author, who does get it) and the apology is not too far off from that general dynamic. If it was a complex story about real people – a teen girl with an organization that was part human trafficker, part surrogate family to her; a free spirit liberal showing off his street cred by hitchhiking / panhandling to the Northwest; a middle aged mentally ill man; a mean spirited alcoholic; a desperate immigrant parent, and so on, then I’d feel a bit differently. But from what I can tell there was little to no effort to make a realistic portrait or case study of actual people there.

    I don’t know what to make of the recent outrage mobs that are all over the place in this zeitgeist. On the one hand, it’s always been the job of tortured artists and mental trailblazers of various stripes to push back against bourgeoisie norms – but one doesn’t simultaneously get to claim the role of tortured trailblazer *and demand that it be an easy road. On the other, I 1) Don’t know when you cross that subjective line wherein the inevitable taboos and petty social tyranny of any society can morph into something truly authoritarian and 2) Think the country is changing and regrouping in terms of politics, and the urban elite seem to be finding their role in that by serving up the same warmed over identity politic outrage again and again. Given the choice between that and liberal’s more populist wing – Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I feel like they’re essentially just ceding their role and influence to the populists (which I guess is ok – everyone tells me that socialism is also a warmed over, or beyond warmed over, idea that only causes countries to become like Venezuela, but I am a bleeding heart and at least get the warm fuzzies at the idea of paying for people’s college with my taxes. So hey, between identity politics and warm fuzzies I’ll take the latter if I had to choose.)

  9. I thought it was about the various hypocrisies, feelings of superiority, and failures to think clearly of those passing by those in the street. Now I think it was trolling of those who join Twitter mobs. Good grief. No wonder people like Milo Yianopoulis bubble to the surface in the current climate.

  10. Welp, there goes any permission for a cis white man to produce art that is aimed at instilling empathy and feelings about anyone who is in any way marginalized.

    Editors note: The above comment is from a cis white male who referred to the existance of people who are marginalized. We are deeply sorry if this juxtaposition offended anyone. The commenter has been sacked.

    NEW editors note: The editor making the previous note referred to a person who referred to people who were marginalized. We wish to assure anyone who is offended by this that the previous editor has been sacked.

      1. No realli! She was Karving her initials on the møøse with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush given her by Svenge – her brother-in-law – an Oslo dentist and star of many Norwegian møvies: “The Høt Hands of an Oslo Dentist”, “Fillings of Passion”, “The Huge Mølars of Horst Nordfink”

  11. I find the poet’s apology the most troubling as it makes it difficult for us to fight this stuff. After all, it is hard to defend someone who doesn’t defend himself. He’s not much of an artist if he runs from controversy. Is he really admitting that he had all those bad thoughts he’s accused of having while writing the poem? The whole thing is disgusting.

    1. And, as was immediately demonstrated after the apology, apologizing does nothing, and usually makes things even worse for the “offender.”

  12. I read and re-read the poem from cold, here on WEIT just now, unaware of the reaction. It didn’t occur to me that the voice might be black (I’m in the UK). Having never known hardship myself, it made me feel awkward about my undeserved privilege: I thought about the number of people on the streets whose needs I’ve ignored and I felt ashamed. I admired it as a challenging poem.

    So I was taken aback to read on and find there had been reaction against it and its author, and I was appalled by the strength of the reaction. What have things come to?

  13. The poem isn’t really about the beggar, it’s about the begged. And it’s unflattering. That might account for some of the reaction.

    1. One goal of the poem is to get “the begged” to think about their Christianity. That is, will the so-reminded “begged” feel compelled to “walk the (Christian) talk.”

      I thought about that the last time I (by then a non-believer) gave a wad of cash to someone loudly banging on my front door making an unsolicited offer to do yard work (had a wife and children who were going to be imminently evicted from the motel soon if he couldn’t pay that week’s rent, etc.). He made sure to tell me that he was Christian. (I thought, “Well then, of course, everything you’re telling me is the truth!”) Worked less than an hour. Never came back. Nice “work” if you can get it. Found out later the local police quite aware of him. This type of noble soul makes it rougher on those truly needy/in dire straits.

      This wasn’t the only time someone, prevailing on me for $$, played the “Ah’m a Christian” card. I’ve scraped the bottom of The Barrel of Giving the Benefit of the Doubt. I’m going to let someone else, if they wish, take their turn at this.

  14. Concern trolling will be the death of genuine activism.

    All elite interests have to do is anonymously pose as someone More Woke Than Thou and they’re free to throw a wrench into the works of anyone trying to effect real change.

  15. An atheist amen to the anti-Pecksniffs and fie upon Anders apologia.
    Anders, in “Weeds” there was an episode where a pit bull was gnawing on Botwin’s foot, with his loss of two toes. He called for someone to “stick a finger up the dog’s ass!” The dog abandoned his foot. It worked.
    Try it next time some editor or guilt-trip picks on you, poor thing.

  16. I think the poem is better than you give it credit for. It doesn’t have much meter, but it does have structure – 14 mostly sonnet-length lines. And it’s not a commentary on the panhandlers and how they pry money out of people. It’s a commentary on the rest of us, the people they’re prying money out of – blind to need but prone to self-flattery (“Let em think they’re good enough / Christians to notice”). Maybe that’s part of why it’s so triggering. People who make a spectacle out of their regard for the less fortunate may be discomfited by the idea that it’s more about their own self-regard.

  17. Very interesting posting. I had never heard of “ableism” or “ableist.” I wonder if suffering from “ableism” is considered a defect or disability? It certainly seems like it is to many of those who complained about the “poem.” Perhaps they are themselves being “ableist” by unconsciously discriminating against those who unconsciously suffer from “ableism”? Lordy, will it ever end?

    Speaking of disabilities, my sister was born deaf and 77 years later is still deaf. I can saw with absolute confidence that her deafness maked her far more “disabled” that “differently abled.” She does have a wonderful sense of color and arrangement. Perhaps these abilities were enhanced by her deafness. But she has suffered immensely from the social isolation caused by her deafness. I think she would trade her visual superiority (and I think she IS superior in this respect) in a nanosecond for being able to hear.

    The uncomfortable fact is that it’s a big pain in the neck to talk to a deaf person or include them into group conversations. It’s exhausting. People naturally give up after a while, and again she is alone while in a crowd. No one is really to blame. It’s just fallible (shall we say “disabled”?) human nature.

  18. The poet has shown the homeless how to manipulate “customers” just as advertising has been for decades, stretching the truth to make a sale.
    We know that a photograph of a single hungry child will garner more charity dollars than a crowd shot of the same. It works and perhaps just as well for those in need.
    It’s a ploy! and i found it amusing that the poem was espousing the same concept, looking for that weakness in a emotional cognitive rush… to hand over some dosh.

  19. Speaking of ways to extract money from passersby:

    Decades ago Cheech & Chong did a wonderful bit about a panhandler. His line is: “I want to buy my little girl a dolly for christmas, I’m broke, can you give me a quarter or somethin’?” It’s not working. Then a Jesus Freak come up and beleaguers him with, “Have you read the good book? Jesus says…..” etc. in an annoying droning voice. Our panhandler hero finally gives him a quarter to get rid of him, and then adopts the line. It works and every passerby now gives him money in order to get him to shut up and go away as quickly as possible. He can’t shove it in his pockets fast enough.

    Moral: There’s always room for improvement.

  20. This kind of thing, combined with the fascism demonstrated by the two Grant High School students in the last post, seems to me a far greater threat to our democracy than any outside interference in our elections. Who needs the Russians? We’ll just rot from within.

    1. Even if we agreed with this, and I don’t, the two problems are totally different. We have no reason at all to tolerate election interference from any foreign source. Bad thinking by our own citizens has always been a problem. The only solution is more education, insistence on facts, and strenuous defense of freedom of speech.

      1. “We have no reason at all to tolerate election interference from any foreign source.”

        We may have no reason to tolerate it, Paul, but we have even less reason to pretend to be shocked by it. Foreign governments, like our own, are going to do their worst to get an edge—it’s called “politics”—and if we don’t have the technological know-how to stop them, that’s on us.

        As for the other problem, which I agree is totally different,* there is no technological fix. “More education” is a fine motto, but it’s hardly a solution when our schools are systematically substituting indoctrination for education. I’ve been an educator for over 50 years, and I can assure you this isn’t an exaggeration.


        *A first!–We agreed about something! 😉

        1. Would you be as sanguine if the Russians were endeavoring to hack into Fort Knox or tampering with the US Treasury — or is it only the functioning of the US democracy that’s expendable?

          1. “Would you be as sanguine if the Russians were endeavoring to hack into Fort Knox or tampering with the US Treasury?”

            In a word, yes. As with election tampering I would say 1) they’re welcome to try, 2) I would hope they don’t succeed, and 3) if they do succeed, we need to step up our game.

    2. We have in the Oval Office a man who takes his cues from reality tv, from professional wrestling, and from the Far-Right fever swamp — a man who as a candidate for the United States presidency appeared on and endorsed Alex Jones’s show. The latest rage among his deplorable base is the bizarre Q-Anon conspiracy.

      Trump has the support of 90% of one of our nation’s two major political parties. He and his minions have absolute control of the executive branch of the federal government and have a sufficiently sizable contingent of fellow travelers in the House of Representatives so as to prevent enactment any federal legislation without it.

      I’d say this poses a more dire threat to the American commonweal than any lamebrains on the Left.

      1. As always, Ken, I respect admire your passion, but it’s clear to me that you take politics far more seriously than I do. I have far less interest in what’s going on in our government than I do in what’s going on in our schools.

        What you say about Trump and his minions may be true, but the seeds of their own downfall are within. The thing about the far right is that, sooner or later, their goose-stepping (they can’t help themselves) reveals them for what they are, and they fool no one for long. The American people are smarter than that.

        The “lamebrains on the left,” as you dismissively call them, are far more subtle because they’re far more educated–and therefore, IMO, more dangerous. Increasingly, they control our major universities and the centers of education, which is far more insidious than controlling both houses of Congress (not that I’m happy with either party controlling both houses of Congress, and I admit to being worried about the balance of power in the Supreme Court, which you don’t mention).

        Before my grandson’s generation reaches voting age, Trump will be a hiccup in history. But if the best and the brightest of that generation are corrupted by indoctrination posing as education, we will sooner or later have to face the question posed by the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado, “Who then is left to perform the great miracles of the spirit?” (Poets, God love ‘em, still tend to believe in “miracles of the spirit.”)


        1. When I was a teenager, sometimes my dad would look at me and say “I admire your passion, son; it’s your judgment I question.”

          He died 30 years ago, almost to the day, and I hadn’t thought about how he used to say that in years, until reading your reply. Thanks for that, Gary. 🙂

          1. My dad’s version of that sentiment was “Use your own poor judgement.” He died 32 years ago, and it wasn’t until reading your reply that I realized that today, August 3, is the anniversary of his death. So thanks back at you for that.

  21. In this past week there was an article about a homeless person in Silicon Valley (I think) who handed out resumes asking for a job. In a very short time, he had a job at McDonald’s.

    I am very sad for the truly “differently abled” and “homeless”. Some of them manage to survive somehow without being on the street.
    I have known a number and some were family members. Many of us have lived through times where we had insufficient income and did without or depended on loving family to help us out. We are now the ones who are being panhandled. Not the rich and super wealthy.

    In addition, there are people who take advantage of the “Christians” and others with sympathy for the downtrodden. It is common for drug users to band together, collect handouts, then send one of them to rent a motel room and all stay there as long as they can. Otherwise they sleep in overgrown shrubbery near homes, roads and freeways. It is a chosen lifestyle due to their drug habit.

    Not all “homeless” or “differently abled” are in this category, but those who have been scammed by the folks needing gas, yard workers,”Christians” or “veterans” don’t give as freely after burned enough. Better to give to verifiable charities where you may be more assured of your gift being well used.

  22. Where I live (inner suburbs of large East Coast city), 90% of panhandlers are white. Most are middle-aged men. It must pay to do this, because I see the same ones on the same streets on a regular basis. Most hold signs saying they are homeless vets. For reasons I don’t understand, there are far more panhandlers now than even 3-4 years ago.
    A true story – I take a shuttle bus to get from one office building to another, that passes by several panhandlers on its route. Once at a red light, the bus driver who was black, looked over at the nearby middle aged white guy out on the street asking for money, and the driver said to another passenger “If you are well enough to stand outside on a street all day long, then you’re well enough to get some kind of job. Anythings got to be better than standing out on a street.” A thought I’ve often had myself.
    And that’s what I don’t like about the poem, its equation of panhandler = black person.

  23. I’ll say this to all the poem’s critics: Long ago when the Lone Ranger shoots a gun out of the “bad guy’s” hand and BG cries “My hand, my hand…” the masked man replies “Stop your whining, you’re not hurt.”

    This applies also to those who whine about “cultural appropriation” and how “hurt” they are.
    “Stop your whining, you’re not hurt.”

  24. I like Jeremy Stangroom’s take on it. “Tell the mob to go fuck itself”.

    Of course, that approach won’t work. The mob won’t go and fuck itself. Sadly.

    But apologising won’t work either, whether it’s a dignified considered apology or an embarrassing grovel. All it will do is prolong the agony and allow the mob to feel that its malicious persecution was justified while they trample all over you to get to the next victim.

    At least telling them to go fuck themselves spares you the shame and hypocrisy of apologising for a non-offence.


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